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Judge: Terminally Ill Woman Can Have Respirator Removed

June 24, 1986

TOMS RIVER, N.J. (AP) _ A judge ruled Monday that a terminally ill, 37-year-old woman can be disconnected from a respirator, as she has requested, because it would be cruel to sustain a life ″so wracked with pain.″

Superior Court Judge Henry H. Wiley issued his decision after hearing arguments in the case of Kathleen Farrell, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease and has said through her husband that she is concerned about the effect her illness is having on him and their two teen-age children.

Wiley stayed any action in the case pending appeals, and an attorney appointed by the judge to represent the interests of the children, John Gerson, said he will file an appeal with the New Jersey Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Peter Strohm, another court-appointed lawyer representing the children, said he expected a ruling on the appeal by the end of the week.

Joseph Purrazzella, a lawyer representing Mrs. Farrell’s husband, Francis, said he was confident Wiley’s decision would be upheld. ″We’re over the first hurdle,″ he said.

Farrell refused to comment on the decision.

Mrs. Farrell, who learned three years ago that she was dying, was mentally competent to decide whether to continue her life, Wiley said.

″It would really be adding insult to injury″ to force her to continue a life ″so poor, so minimal and so wracked with pain,″ the judge said.

Earlier Monday, Farrell told the judge his wife had vowed not to die after she learned she had the disease but when an experimental treatment program for her was stopped in November, ″she told me she was going to die.″

″She made the decision on her own free will,″ he testified.

Farrell, 37, had asked Wiley to appoint him as a special medical guardian with the authority to disconnect the respirator.

Farrell also sought a declaration that his wife is mentally competent to decide whether her treatment should be continued, and that if she should die as a result of withholding treatment, he and anyone who helps him be exempt from criminal or civil liability.

Farrell has said his wife is concerned about the effect her illness is having on him and their two teen-age sons.

Wiley visited Mrs. Farrell last week after her husband’s attorney, Joseph Purrazzella, filed the court complaint.

Mrs. Farrell suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive neurological disease commonly called Lou Gehrig’s disease. It causes the fluid in the spinal column to harden and muscles to shrivel.

Mrs. Farrell, who is attended by nurses at her South Toms River home, lost her ability to swallow several weeks ago, but has refused to allow doctors to insert a stomach or nose tube for feeding.

Farrell testified that his wife takes liquids through a syringe nurses put in her mouth, but said she sleeps most of the time and has trouble talking.

Her physician, Dr. John Pino, said all of her muscles, except those that control her lips and eyes, are paralyzed, and there is no chance she will recover.

He estimated she will not live another six to 12 months if her current care is continued.

Pino, who has refused to disconnect the respirator, testified she would suffocate if the device is removed and that death might be painful. He added, however, that he has agreed to try to relieve any suffering in the event she is removed from the equipment.

Jean Orost, a licensed clinical psychologist, testified she was called in by Pino to examine Mrs. Farrell in November, shortly after the patient decided to request removal of the respirator.

″She believed it wasn’t fair to her family to continue to live at this point,″ said Ms. Orost ″She indicated she had discussed her decision with her husband, but it had been her decision alone.″

The Farrell case differs from other New Jersey right-to-die cases that involved comatose patients because Mrs. Farrell herself requested that the respirator be removed.

In the case of Karen Ann Quinlan, a comatose Morris County woman, the state Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that she could be removed from a respirator. Miss Quinlan survived without the device until her June 11, 1985, death at age 31.

In another case, a state judge ruled in April that a feeding tube can be removed from Nancy Ellen Jobes, a brain-damaged, 31-year-old who has been kept alive for six years in a nursing home. That ruling is under appeal.

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